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10 essential leadership prerequisites

One of the hottest topics in the credit union industry today is leadership – new leadership, that is. With the current mass exodus of credit union CEOs, new leaders are entering top roles to take the baton and continue raising this industry to higher levels over the next few decades. But there are many questions being asked about this next group.

  • Do they possess management and leadership attributes, abilities, and skills?
  • Do they have the ability to lead change?
  • Are they visionaries and progressive thinkers?
  • Do they have the ability to influence others to support their vision?
  • Are they out-of-the-box thinkers?
  • Are they passionate about credit unions?

For credit union Boards and exiting CEOs, these are questions, among many others, that need to be addressed for the industry to maintain and certainly increase the pace of its current momentum shift.

Listed below are eight prerequisites Boards and exiting CEOs need to examine closely for their future leaders: 

  1. Passion: Leaders must have an ongoing burning drive to make things better, to make a difference, and to persevere and overcome all barriers to achieve success.

In addition, how passionate is the new candidate about ensuring growth through excellence in all areas of the credit union: people, pricing, products, programs, policies, processes, and procedures? This industry has a unique mindset. It’s more than a transaction. It’s about a deeper meaning, changing lives and making a difference. Is the passion there to go to a more intimate level of service?

  1. Perspective: Today’s leaders need to understand where you have been, where you are, and where you want/need to go. It’s an ever-changing world today. The speed of technology, for instance, has never been faster. Having your eyes on the horizon regarding members’ growing needs, growing regulatory requirements, evolving infrastructure, etc., is so critical. However, one of the most critical components is keeping your pulse on your employees and your culture, which have such a powerful impact on the member experience and the growth of a credit union.

Credit unions today are living in a world of moving targets: technology, regulations, member demographics, etc. Perspective certainly plays a huge role in an organization’s success.

  1. Creativity: Use your creativity to find new and more effective ways to do things. It’s the fun part of the job that requires the complete opposite – risk taking, which is what credit unions are in the business to do. This approach takes creativity to venture outside the proverbial box that can many times help leapfrog over the competition. Try new things; be curious.
  2. Organizational skills: Transferring your broad vision into a very well organized, practical, step-by-step program takes effort. This prerequisite, however, is vital to running a well-oiled machine in keeping tasks, responsibilities, and order in check and on target.
  3. Teamwork: Leading any major change involves engaging, persuading, and working with other people while keeping the organization’s best interests at heart. Very few great things in life occur from one person – especially professionally. Being an aligned team from top to bottom just about guarantees success as long as the direction has been clearly defined for all staff. But this alignment and direction starts at the top, the leader and must clearly communicate to everyone in the organization to act as one.
  4. Persistence: Passion gets you started; persistence is what carries you through. Highs and lows are not only part of life, they are part of business, too. A leader that can weather these fluctuations and keep steaming ahead can keep the credit union heading toward achieving its goals. Setbacks occur, but being persistent can quell those speed bumps – keeping the passion that sparked it all at full stoke. Getting and keeping everyone focused on the goal and putting simple action plans in place is critical to remain steadfast and persistent in your mission and vision.
  5. Open-mindedness: Change leads you into unchartered waters and involves a good measure of “learning by doing.” Therefore, you must be very comfortable with ambiguity. It’s somewhat similar to both creativity and perspective, keeping options open for anything new and, yes, proven. Therein lies the calculated risk that an open mind craves. A mighty fine prerequisite for today’s credit union leader.
  6. Integrity: Honest and genuine; motivated by your deeply held values to make your organization and team better. Nothing matters more in a leader.
  7. Empowerment and Accountability: Empowerment and accountability go hand in hand. One does you no good without the other. Great leaders are comfortable delegating and empowering their teams to excel and do the right thing to get the right results. Conversely, great leaders hold their teams accountable as well.
  8. Fun: Leaders know how to incorporate fun along the journey!

Success is not driven by “black and white” operational thinking. Success is driven by visionary leaders who embrace and possess the attributes outlined above. As an industry striving to become more relevant in a fast-paced world with a very fluid economy, having the right leader in place is certainly giving you a competitive edge to ensure long-term success.


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